March is Meditation Month at Tricycle

Tricycle magazine runs a support campaign every March for meditators and the curious. Whether you already have a regular meditation practice, or have tried meditation before and moved on (do you know why?), or are just curious about how to meditate, this campaign is for you. And me.

As things stand in March, 2019, my personal take on my meditation practice is: I wish I meditated every day, but I don’t. Not right now. These days a ‘good’ week of practice will include 4-5 days with 20-60 minutes of meditation, but most weeks aren’t ‘good.’

Why don’t I respond to my wishes? The reasons are several, and they are tangled up with each other like the t-shirts and socks in my laundry basket. Too many commitments. Not enough time. Not always drawn to the idea of sitting still. Right now just doesn’t feel like a good time. And so on.

This is where I find the Tricycle campaign (among other things) supportive and helpful. They provide links to several insightful and inspiring online articles that reassure me that my situation is far from unique, suggest simple things I might do to sustain myself even when I feel too busy (or substitute: overwhelmed-lethargic-apathetic), and remind me why I became interested in meditation in the first place.

And, maybe best of all (is there a best of all?), there are online guided meditations. A new one is being posted every week this month, and there will be four in all (see below). I have listened to the first one, and I provided a summary (see below). Briefly, it is wonderful. Simple, yet inspiring. I will summarize the next three after I have given them a listen, so keep checking back.

We are all in this together. Thank you for reading. -Alan


Guided Meditation #1 – Beginning with Mindfulness. Well-known meditation teacher and author, Martine Batchelor, is Tricycle’s meditation guide for 2019. I have read/own several of her books, including the gorgeous and informative Meditation for Life.

What is so delightful about Martine’s approach to meditation is its down-to-earth simplicity and practicality. Let me give you an example from this online teaching. Early on Martine refers to two aspects of awareness that are cultivated by mindfulness meditation, concentration and inquiry. This is traditional terminology that has been used by hundreds of Western meditation teachers for many decades, but Martine isn’t stuck on these labels. She immediately drops them in favor of calm and openness. Much more transparent, I think.

If you decide to give the guided meditation a listen, here’s what you should know. The full session runs a little over 22 minutes. Only the last 15 minutes are the actual guided meditation. The session starts with a few minutes of introductory remarks (what are we trying to accomplish by sitting still?), followed by:

  • (3:08) the idea of anchoring awareness in a friendly way on some object or sensation (the breath and body sensations are used here),
  • (4:41) a description of how to position the body in a stable posture, and then
  • (6:30) the beginning of the guided meditation which takes up the remaining 15 minutes.

During the meditation Martine guides our attention to our breath, and then proceeds to a different anchor, physical sensations beginning with the feeling of our feet on the floor and slowly proceeding upwards.

Tip: Once the meditation starts (6:30), there is no reason to watch the screen and you will probably be better off if you don’t. Instead, turn up your speaker or headphone loud enough so that you can hear her clearly, gaze gently at the floor or gently shut your eyes, and then listen to Martine’s instructions (transcript). Nothing could be simpler.

Guided Meditation #2 – Listening with Compassion. This session runs just a little over 18 minutes. Martine Batchelor sets the stage by spending a minute or two looking back at the previous session: anchoring attention on the breath and physical sensations in the body (see above). Then she introduces something new: anchoring our attention on the sounds we hear.

She suggests two approaches for listening meditation. We might (1) try to leave ourself wide open to listening, noticing not only the sound, but the entire space in which the sound appears, or we might (2) focus on the sounds themselves, noticing them appearing, evolving, and disappearing. The guided meditation starts at 5:30 and runs for a little over 10 minutes.

One difference I have discovered between listening to sounds and watching my breath is that I have a pretty good idea how my breath will appear (inhale – exhale – inhale – …), but I can never predict what sounds will come next. Another difference I have noticed is that sounds have much more inherent meaning for me than my breath does. As I listen to sounds I tend to label them (tummy gurgle, car engine, bird chirp, …) and launch into thought patterns based on those labels.

Martine finishes the session (transcript) by discussing some of our habitual listening patterns and the triggers that go with them. And, most important, she suggests a practice for listening to other people more attentively.

Guided Meditation #3 – Exploring Feeling Tone. This session lasts 20 minutes beginning with 6 min of explanation followed by 13 min of guided meditation and a 1 min homework assignment. (transcript)

The additional minutes of explanation are helpful. Feeling tone is neither our thoughts (“I like that…”) nor our emotions (anger, disgust, etc.), but more like the bias in our experience. Feeling tone is the answer to this question: Is the experience I’m having pleasant, unpleasant, or something in between (neutral)? The experience itself can take many forms — physical sensations in the body, sounds, even awareness of being mindful — and Martine explores all of these possibilities during the guided meditation.

Martine also explains two other aspects of feeling tone. First, she points out that our sensitivity to feeling tone tends to carry a bias. The slightest whiff of unpleasantness tends to catch our attention. Pleasant sensations, on the other hand, need to be stronger before they register with us, and a neutral sensation (neither pleasant nor unpleasant) might actually feel unpleasant if we attach negative thoughts to it, such as “boring”. Second, Martine says that our awareness of feeling tone operates at such a subtle level that we are unlikely to notice when it changes or when different aspects of experience simultaneously evoke different tones (my body’s weight on the cafe’s chair is pleasant, even though the noises from the neighbors’ table is not).

Under construction: Practicing with Joy and Gratitude.